Biggest mobile operators join forces on app store project

Operators hope unity and openness will help them compete with proprietary stores such as Apple's or the Android market

Twenty-four mobile network operators have formed the Wholesale Applications Community to avoid fragmenting the apps market and to give developers one point of entry to all the members, the GSM Association announced on Monday.

The operators will now start working on uniting their existing developer communities, so developers will be able to go to one place to get their applications distributed instead of having to go through multiple application approval processes.

The community will also start working on a common development standard that should be ready within the next 12 months. The standard will be independent of phone type and operating system, according to the members.

That will allow them to better compete against Apple's App Store or Google's Android Market, which have independent and competing approvals processes tied to their phone or operating system.

"Developers are going to have a lot more access to a lot more customers," said Alex Sinclair, chief technology and strategy officer of the GSMA, at a news conference at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

The Wholesale Applications Community members include: AT&T, China Mobile, Deutsche Telekom, NTT DoCoMo, Orange, Telefónica, Telenor Group, Sprint, Verizon Wireless and Vodafone. Together the operators in the group have about 3 billion subscribers, the GSMA said.

The group has the full backing of the GSMA and the list of supporters will grow in the coming days. "There are several people who are annoyed they couldn't get their name on the list in time," said Sinclair.

Apple is not among those clamoring to be added to the list, but if the company wants to join the group, "it will be welcome," he said.

Just like many phone manufacturers, operators have seen the success of Apple's App Store and want a piece of the pie. Some, including Orange, Verizon and Vodafone, have already launched their own application stores.

Mobile phone manufacturers LG Electronics, Samsung and Sony Ericsson have also voiced their support for the apps community.

The Wholesale Applications Community faces a number of obstacles, according to analysts at CCS Insight.

"Operators are trying to regain control of apps, but have a poor track record with this type of industry consortium," they said in a research note.

"Big challenges remain overcoming inconsistency between standards bodies like JIL and Bondi," the analysts continued, referring to the Joint Innovation Lab created by a group of mobile operators including Vodafone, China Mobile, Softbank and Verizon Wireless, which also has the support of phone manufacturers LG Electronics, Research in Motion, Samsung Electronics and Sharp.

There is no competition between the Wholesale Applications Community and JIL, as all members of JIL are also members of the community, according to Sinclair.

"The last thing we wanted was a Jack versus JIL situation," he said.

The groups hope to converge their various specifications within 12 months, he said.

(With additional reporting by Peter Sayer in Barcelona.)

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